Wilberforce president to retire

Wilberforce University President Algeania Freeman is retiring less than two years after taking over at the financially struggling Greene County school.

Freeman came out of retirement in 2014 to help the university through the process of saving its accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission. Having accomplished that goal, the 67-year-old says she is looking forward to actual retirement and working with her charity foundation, she said.

“I was able to help the institution develop a strategic five-year plan,” she said, calling the turnaround at Wilberforce the highlight of her life.

“She came out of retirement to help us,” Board of Trustees chairman Mark Wilson said. “We will forever be grateful for that.”

Freeman leaves the nation’s oldest historically black private university in a good position to move forward, he said.

The school avoided losing its accreditation last year by putting into a place a five-year plan for improving enrollment and fiscal responsibility.

The commission was encouraged by steps the university had taken, including naming new board members with expertise in fundraising, including Wilson.

In 2014, shortly after Freeman was named the school’s 20th president, Wilberforce’s enrollment was around 350 students.

Leaders announced they would budget for fewer students while increasing recruitment efforts. In Freeman’s first year, enrollment more than doubled. This fall, the university expects to enroll 1,000 students. It already has 583 confirmed, which is about 100 ahead of last year’s pace, Freeman said.

School leaders also vowed in 2014 to establish new accounting checks while raising funds online and reconnecting with alumni, donors and churches.

Freeman’s leadership helped put the university on the right path financially, said Provost and Vice President D.R. Buffinger.

“She’s given us the tools, she’s given us direction,” he said.

The school is aggressively applying for grants and preparing well in advance for upcoming site visits from the accreditation commission, Buffinger said.

Like enrollment, fundraising has turned around during Freeman’s tenure, Wilson said, and the goal is to keep the positive momentum going.

Freeman said last fall the school was about halfway to a $7 million fundrasing goal, thanks in part to a $2 million gift from The African Methodist Episcopal Church — which the school has been affiliated with since 1863.

Wilson declined to offer specifics about the fundrasing campaign, but said the university is in a much better position to go after donations now that its accreditation is secure through 2020.

“I just feel like there are blue skies ahead in terms of raising money,” he said.

The university will seek a new president who has networking and fundraising connections, as well as a passion for student success and experience in academics, Wilson said.

There is no timeline to name a replacement and a search committee will look at both internal and external candidates, he said.

Freeman has no exact departure date and will aid in the search for a new president and transition, she said.

Buffinger said he couldn’t comment on any severance package Freeman will receive.

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